The Episcopal Church Grant Report: SewGreen@Rochester Encounters Success (Part 3)
SewGreen@ Rochester, recipient of a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant, has submitted their annual report. The $30,000 grant, awarded last year, exists to engage Episcopalians in ministry among the economically impoverished in the United States, to provide the opportunity to the marginalized to overcome chronic adversities, to challenge unjust structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and to inspire the wider church to more deeply engage with the poor. Their six-month report, detailed here, explains their progress through February 2016.
As noted in the previous post in this series, there have been important hurdles for SewGreen@ Rochester as they position themselves for success in their community, the 19th Ward. The path has not been easy, but neither has it been joyless. In this post, we detail some of the important successes that the ministry has achieved.
From the beginning, it has been important for SewGreen to be accepted and fully present among their neighbors; the ministry does not seek to do projects for the neighborhood—rather, SGR seeks to walk alongside the people of Rochester, and hopes to become an indispensable part of the community in the process. To that end, it was important that the diversity of the neighborhood be reflected throughout SewGreen – among students, teachers, staff, and board members. According to the director, Deacon Georgia Carney, it is one thing to verbally commit to diversity in a ministry—but it is wholly another to see that diversity occurring organically, from engagement with “class participants, Facebook contacts, Wilson Magnet High School contacts, Episcopal Church parishioners and 19th Ward neighbors.” Indeed, this is “the Holy Spirit in action.”
The ministry has also provided a crucible for discernment of spiritual gifts. Deacon Carney, in reflecting on her own challenges and opportunities as director of the ministry, has found it important to analyze where her time and energy are best spent. In addition to her role as the leader, she is also the “chief educator, arranger of fabric stock, and sewing machine whisperer.”
Doing all of this work all of the time, however, is simply untenable. She has found that focusing on outreach work is an excellent use of her gifts; when she visits other businesses, distributes information, preaches at other churches, engages parishioners at coffee hour, and attends community festivals with her antique treadle sewing machine, she notices a near-immediate increase in the number of donations and store visits. Understanding her gift for outreach, she has recognized that more of her time should be spent in that process, and that many of the shop functions can be handled through faith in the Spirit’s work and her volunteers’ gifts.
Additionally, embracing this gift has been important for another reason: it inspires other people to discern their gifts and engage the community. Deacon Carney explains, “As I take the time and have the courage to cross into other neighborhoods and share the mission of SewGreen@ Rochester, I encourage others to take that big step to leave their comfort zone and come to Arnett Boulevard and experience the good that we are building there and begin to become a part of what I call the ‘nerdy sewing goodness.’” After all, “no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:15, NRSV).
Some of the successes of SewGreen would not be possible without engaging and partnering with other community institutions. Kids Sew Together, a program funded by a grant from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Dansville, N.Y., will be offered in part because of Deacon Carney’s nurturing work with a mending ministry there. The program will offer a simple fiber, craft, or sewing activity each day, along with a healthy snack—especially important during the summer break, when food insecurity is often amplified (to read more about how Episcopal ministries work with summer feeding programs, click here).
As noted in an earlier post, SewGreen also has collaborated with RochesterWorks, a regional employment and training initiative, to set up a paid internship at the shop. Kentrayl Brown, a high school student from the city’s School of the Arts, will have a significant role in both the Kids Program and the upcoming Marionette Camp.
The Catechism explains, “The ministry of a
deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant to those in need” (The Book of Common Prayer, 856). Whether talking with, reading from, or otherwise interacting with Deacon Carney, it becomes clear that her commitment to her ministry is extraordinary.
Part of her skillset as a deacon is directly attributable to lessons learned during Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), training with chaplains at Strong Hospital in Rochester. She explains, “I learned in CPE how much I enjoy hearing the life stories, the joys as well as the sorrows of my fellow human travelers.” While the setting of a fabric shop is slightly different than a large teaching hospital, there are very naturally components of pastoral care that have carried over in her ministry. While hands are busy and working, she hears stories of pain and happiness and the age-old challenge of figuring out life as we live it.
This is because SewGreen@ Rochester is more than a simple shop—it is a spiritual outpost. It is a place where people can learn not only sewing and knitting skills, but also about their spiritual gifts and the power to develop themselves and others. Questions about relationships, money, illness, theology, and any other subject are welcomed and worked through—something that wider society might take note of.
Deacon Carney mentions a final point that exemplifies her role as teacher and learner, and that can be instructive in finding our voices as Christians: “The more honest and authentic I am, and the more sure I am of my own beliefs, the more I can be gentle and encourage folks to explore their own thoughts, experience and beliefs.”
This is the third in a four-part series about SewGreen@ Rochester, recipient of a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant from The Episcopal Church. Check back tomorrow to read about what’s next for the ministry.
For more information, visit Domestic Poverty Ministries athttp://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/domestic-poverty-ministries and like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/episcopaljubilee/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/Matthew2537.